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SCHIZOPHRENIA Americans spend about $10 billion a year for antipsychotic medications, but are we getting our money's worth? Not according to a landmark government-funded trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It found that Risperdal, Seroquel and Geodon, three of the new "atypical antipsychotics" that doctors widely prescribe to treat schizophrenia, are no more effective--and no safer--than an older and much cheaper generic drug called perphenazine. The study was another reminder that the flashy new compounds coming out of pharmaceutical labs may not be worth the high price tags they command. Perphenazine, for example, costs about $50 a month, while the new antipsychotics can easily run 4 to 10 times as much or more. Zyprexa, a fourth atypical antipsychotic included in the study, helped more patients for longer than the other drugs, but it was also more likely to cause severe weight gain, high blood sugar and high cholesterol. By the end of the study, 74% of patients had abandoned their medicines because they either didn't work well enough or caused intolerable side effects.
SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES The lessons of the '70s and '80s seem to have been lost on this generation of sexually active young adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a rise in cases of early-stage syphilis last year (up 29% from 2000, largely among gay men) and chlamydia (up nearly 6% since 2003). By contrast, rates of gonorrhea dipped to their lowest level since 1941, when record-keeping began.
Ironically, one group that is still at high risk for sexually transmitted diseases is the millions of teenagers who made public "virginity pledges" to abstain from sex until marriage. A report in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that compared with other teens, those who made the pledge are more likely to experiment with oral and anal sex, are less likely to use condoms and are just as likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases. As a group, however, pledgers do tend to wait longer to lose their "technical" virginity.
SUDDEN INFANT DEATH SYNDROME In October the American Academy of Pediatrics revised its guidelines for preventing sudden infant death syndrome. Key recommendations include giving babies a pacifier at nap time and bedtime but only when they are between 1 month and 1 year old--after breastfeeding has been firmly established and before dental problems are likely to arise. The academy also advises parents to place babies on their back to sleep, never on their side or front, and to put them to sleep in their crib, not the family bed, where they risk being strangled or suffocated.